Gen. Pace: no civil war in Iraq —but US troops not going anywhere

From Bloomberg, March 5:

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace said Iraq isn’t on the brink of civil war and that there isn’t any deadline for withdrawing American and coalition troops from the country.

While acknowledging that Iraq still isn’t stabilized, Pace said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, “I do not believe that they’re on the verge of civil war.”

The Marines Corps general also said on “Fox News Sunday” that reports in two U.K. newspapers that the U.S. and Britain plan to pull out of Iraq by the first half of next year are “not true.” The Sunday Telegraph reported today that U.K officials pushed the plan to withdrawal the 138,000 American and British troops from Iraq out of concern that the presence of foreign troops is preventing peace in the region, citing an unidentified defense official.

“We’re going to do exactly what we said we’re going to do, which is make the assessments of situations on the ground,” Pace said.

U.S. and Iraqi leaders have voiced concerns about the possibility of civil war after a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq sparked by the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra. Pace said the response by Iraqi religious leaders, who have condemned the attacks, shows that the nation’s fledgling government “responds pretty well” and has “great promise for the future.”

“Fighting for Supremacy”

U.S. Representative John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat who has called for the U.S. to immediately begin a withdrawal from Iraq, challenged Pace’s assessment and said American troops are caught in the fighting between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq.

“There’s two participants fighting for survival and fighting for supremacy inside that country,” Murtha said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I think we’re not making progress. We’re caught in a civil war.”

Adnan Pachachi, former Iraqi foreign minister and current member of parliament, disagreed, saying, “There is a lot of tension and differences, but no civil war.”

As we have noted before, this kind of willfully delusional, myopic optimism seems to infect both the pro-war right and the anti-war left. Robert Fisk has taken to incessantly intoning “There will not be a civil war in Iraq. There never has been a civil war in Iraq.” (He did so most recently in a March 2 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company.)

Once again, this is a question of placing politics before simple facts. Gen. Pace needs to paint rosy scenarios to keep up public and Congressional support for the military adventure. Fisk needs to do the same thing to assure the anti-war crowd that everything will be just fine if the US pulls out.

So is the only litmus test for “civil war” in Iraq the actual official fracturing of the government (which seems imminent in any case)? Why doesn’t this litmus test apply in Colombia or Sri Lanka—where the level of violence is actually lower than in Iraq, but where nobody denies there is a civil war? Does the actual level of violence in Iraq bring nothing to bear on whether we call it “civil war”?

See our last post on Iraq.

  1. More from Gen. Pace
    Hey, who writes this guy’s material? From Newsday, March 5:

    WASHINGTON — Iraq is not on the verge of civil war, the Pentagon’s top general said yesterday, though he acknowledged “anything can happen” there.

    Ending the insurgency depends not only on military efforts but also on whether the Iraqi government can give the people what they want, said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    “I do not believe it has deep roots,” Pace said of the insurgency. “I do not believe that they’re on the verge of civil war.”

    Asked how U.S. efforts in Iraq are going, Pace said: “I’d say they’re going well. I wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they’re going very, very well.

    Pace spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as Iraqis continued a stalemate over forming a new government.